Chile protest anniversary turns violent as churches are set on fire, police fire tear gas

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People gathered early in the day for protests in downtown and in Chilean cities that gathered momentum and fervor throughout the evening. Many touted handcrafted rainbow-colored placards and banners calling for a ‘yes’ vote next Sunday in a referendum on whether to abolish the country’s dictatorship-era constitution , a key demand of the 2019 protests.

The protests, although largely peaceful at first, were marred by increasing incidents of violence, looting of supermarkets and clashes with police in the capital later in the day. Sirens from fire trucks, barricades set on the roads and fireworks in downtown streets have added to a sense of chaos in some neighborhoods.

Home Secretary Victor Perez spoke late in the evening, praising the early and peaceful gatherings while detonating the chaos of the night. He called on Chileans to settle their differences by voting in the upcoming constitutional referendum on October 25.

“Those who commit these acts of violence don’t want the Chileans to solve our problems by democratic means,” Perez told reporters, vowing to punish those who crossed the line on Sunday.

Early in the day, an angry mob taunted and threatened a Communist Party mayor. Later, masked individuals set fire to a police headquarters and a church. Vandals attacked another Santiago church in the early evening, setting its spire ablaze and smothering side streets with smoke.More than 15 metro stations were temporarily closed amid the unrest. The police fired tear gas and water cannons during skirmishes with sometimes violent people, hooded and masked.

Last year’s protests, which began on October 18, raged through mid-December, as Chileans gathered across the country to call for reforms to the pension, health and welfare systems. ‘education. Riots and looting have caused billions of dollars in damage and loss to businesses and infrastructure across the country. The unrest saw the military take to the streets for the first time since the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Police estimated Sunday’s rally in Santiago drew around 25,000 people by 6 p.m., far fewer than the biggest protests of 2019.

In recent days, small-scale protests and isolated incidents of violence have nonetheless resurfaced in Chile, as the capital’s 6 million citizens emerge from months of imprisonment after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most protesters wore masks on Sunday, but many could be seen in tight groups, raising concerns of a potential health risk.

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